Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In Which I Cried in Worship...Again

I was never a crier.  I didn’t even cry at my own wedding.  I’m not sure what has happened to me in the past few years, but I find myself crying much more often than I used to.  I also tend to cry in public places, which is quite a challenge for me (a hilarious challenge, according to my emotion-loving husband who knows my stoic ways too well).  I’ve always hated crying in front of people, yet this is slowly becoming a part of my life.  At my sister’s wedding last summer, I could barely make it through my toast.  In worship last fall, I cried through the service.  Is it because I’m now a parent?  Am I just getting older?  Who knows?  What I do know is I have to accept this new part of myself because it’s clearly not going away.

I’ve had trouble integrating this new part of myself with my professional identity.  Pastors don’t cry.  We’re supposed to be the solid presence, the comforting balm in crisis, and the one to lean on.  We have to keep ourselves together.  Often this is necessary and true.  Yet the more I do this job, the more I realize there’s a time for everything (thank you, Ecclesiastes).  I thought it would get easier, and in some ways it has.  In other ways it hasn’t.  The longer I’m at this church, the closer I get to the people and the more I learn about their lives.  I can’t help but be connected to them.  Evidently I occasionally display my compassion through public tears.

I was deeply touched by a sermon given by Bishop Mark Hanson last year at our annual St. Paul and Minneapolis Synod theological retreat.  He became emotional during it and had to take a moment to collect himself.  He explained to us that the topic he was addressing was close to his heart—his own child struggled mightily with it, and he couldn’t help but get choked up when he spoke about it.  I still hold this moment in my heart as I grapple with my own public emotions.  I thought no less of him as he admitted to feeling his emotions.  I felt a connection with him as a true person.  If the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA can be authentic with his tears, why can’t I?

I still believe there are times when I need to keep my emotions in check.  This is (usually) not hard for me.  But the longer I serve the church, the more I realize how important it is for me to be authentic.  When I am leading a healing service and am honored to individually lay hands on and pray for people, I can’t keep my tears at bay.  I see their tears, their pain, their struggles--not only see, but also feel them.  When a boy comes to me at the end of the line and shyly asks for a prayer—a prayer I know well, a prayer I can relate to in my deepest of hearts—and I am able to give him that prayer, well, that’s more than I can handle.  When I witness God giving peace and comfort, I think it’s permissible for me to shed a few tears.  How can I not be overwhelmed by this God? 

“…a time to weep, and a time to laugh…” Ecclesiastes 3:4      

Monday, July 2, 2012


I often think of myself as the secret-keeper.  This was especially true when I was a pastor in a rural town.  I was usually the first place people would look for financial, spiritual and therapeutic help because it wasn’t readily available in their small town (I say first step because I often did—and still do—refer people on to more qualified mental health or other professionals).  I was also free, and they knew right where to find me—they just needed to find my car.

It took me a while to figure out my role in the town.  I knew I couldn’t be friends—in the regular sense—with the people in the congregation I served.  This became apparent as I learned more and more about them.  I knew too much.  I knew what mothers thought about daughters-in-law, I knew about the abuse, the hidden addictions, and the memory loss.  When I looked out into the congregation on Sundays, I saw the underbelly.  I imagine it is similar to being a doctor in some ways—the doctor in town sees and knows people at a different level than they know each other. 

In order to protect them and myself, I couldn’t get too close.  I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I could let some information slip.  In order to keep their trust, I needed to be air-tight in my confidentiality.  I still work very hard to keep professional boundaries and to maintain a safe space in my office at church.  I regard my trustworthiness as essential in my calling.  In some ways it’s a burden.

But the joy of this responsibility is the privilege of being present when a secret is let loose.  I’ll always remember the time when a congregation member came into my office to share a very old secret. This person was in the process of sharing it with others and I was fortunate to hear it too.  I witnessed the unburdening of years of shame and guilt and saw the transformative and blatant joy of release.  What an honor it was to be present in that moment and to declare God’s forgiveness and love.  I was overjoyed to see God’s grace spilling into the recesses of sadness and regret, filling them up with new life and a new future.  It was a holy, holy, holy moment.

This moment was even more poignant because this is a friend.  I now see I play a different role than a doctor or counselor.  I am able to walk with people through their everyday lives, to visit them in their homes, to coach them as they raise their children faithfully, to bury their loved ones.  They show me what it means to find faith in the joys and struggles of daily life.  So I closed the door after the secret came to light and wept for the joy of God’s transforming grace in the lives of those I love.

Sometimes we need to keep our secrets.  Yet Scripture tells us that God brings light into the darkness—even the darkness of our deepest secrets and our most shameful memories.  I see it happen.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:5